It’s been a few years since Anton Würth last issued one of his Carnets, now numbering 19. These are slim volumes self-published irregularly, in small editions, since 1993. Each sets out a formal problem that unfolds in the artist’s typically understated yet conceptually rigorous manner as the pages are turned—in order, as he has rather enigmatically written, “to sum up an occasional idea of a small sequence.”1 This is to distinguish the Carnets from his more elaborate book projects, which have preoccupied him throughout his 30-year career.
Carnet 19 has to count as the most remarkably understated of Würth’s books to date—a grand claim indeed, given the rarified nature of his oeuvre. In the past, mainly in engraving, he has playfully addressed—and often balanced on a hair—such weighty matters as representation and abstraction, text and image, art and decoration, art history and contemporaneity. This time he seems to be challenging himself to seek the zero-sum limit of line—the edge before it slips into nothing at all.
Würth offers a luscious false start in the form of dappled mauve covers with an adhered hot-pink strip succinctly indicating author and title; just inside are shocking, bright-green Kozo endpapers. That is where maximalism ceases, however: Würth selected for his engravings an Echizen Gampi, just 18 grams per 44 x 33 cm sheet, so pale and light as to barely weigh in as substance. Each sheet was engraved, then folded into four parts to constitute the book’s 16 pages. The paper is nearly translucent, so that, as you leaf through, you glimpse one page of images—little more than marks, really, in the artist’s usual dance between notation and picture—through the previous page, and vice versa. (Würth reports that the placement of the images on the original unfolded sheet was made improvisationally, and that the interstitial choreography among pages is merely serendipitous.)
At the start (and the finish) of the book the pages bear just small simple curved lines, little more than eyelashes, arranged sparingly upon the page; from these he graduates to a small square of parallel lines (arguably the essence of hatching, in turn the essence of engraving) and then, in the center pages, to a double lozenge that, when this delicate form appears, feels like a crash of cymbals compared to the pianissimo of the initial curved lines. “It is about rhythm and duration,” the artist told me, indicating the slight change in density over the run of pages.
He signs off with a red stamp that contains the name given him by his Zen master in Japanese—“Dai-Gu,” or, roughly translated, “Big Idiot.” The artist insists it is justly bestowed, though the logic is not so transparent to those outside the intimate relationship of student and teacher. Perhaps this Carnet was inevitable, given the artist’s professional and personal odyssey. Himself a Zen Buddhist monk, Würth has in his latest book performed a feat of paradox and subtlety, surely the corollary of aspects of his spiritual calling. In some ways a clever challenge, the book allows a contemplation on how little it takes, really, to open a universe.
- Stefan Soltek, Faye Hirsch and Eva Hanebutt-Benz, Anton Würth: Buchprüfung, Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK), Frankfurt. 5 September–17 November 2002, and Gutenberg-Museum Mainz, 15 November–29 December, 2002, 32.